It feels like the rules of life—and parenting—are being rewritten every day, thanks to coronavirus and the efforts to stop it. But as more and more states start to re-open, the question on many moms’ minds is this: Are playdates (indoor and outdoor) OK and how can I carry them out safely? We spoke with an expert—Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., professor of child development and educational advisory board member at The Goddard School—to find out. Here's what she had to say.
Inside Playdates Are Definitely Off-Limits
Jipson is firm here: Even as states start to re-open and lift shelter-in-place regulations, indoor spaces are still associated with a greater risk. As a result, you should continue to make your home a family-only space, unless, of course you’ve already welcomed another family into your “double double.”
Backyards and Beaches are Good Bets
Bottom line: Hold social gatherings outdoors, says Jipson. “I’m comfortable seeing a few children who are familiar with each other getting together in a large open setting—say, a park or a beach—at which they can maintain distance and limit sharing of materials.” As for your backyard? The same rules apply. If it’s spacious enough, inviting a friend for a sprinkler romp is OK as long as safety is practiced.
Regardless, wear a mask. “Consistency is the clearest and safest message for children,” Jipson adds. “Describe your expectations in a firm and neutral way: ‘When we go outside, we wear a mask to keep ourselves and everyone else safe.’” (Just be sure you’re wearing yours, too, of course.)
Approach Playgrounds With Caution
Many playgrounds have reopened, but Jipson still advises parents to be wary. “With playgrounds and play structures, it’s difficult to control the setting, especially in regard to crowding or proximity to others, and there is a lack of effective sanitation procedures,” she says.
If you do go, be mindful of crowds (many playgrounds are limiting the head count to 25 or less) and carry hand sanitizer. One mom we know even brings a travel potty, so nobody has to use a public restroom.
Bring on the Bike Rides
No-contact activities like bike rides, neighborhood walks and hikes, scavenger hunts, soccer and family picnics are all relatively safe, says Jipson. “We now have an increased understanding of how this virus is transmitted,” she explains. “As long as precautions are taken, like maintaining six feet of separation and having plenty of hand sanitizer nearby in case materials get shared, I’m comfortable with these choices.”
She adds that each family has to be intentional about the decisions they make during this time. For example, you’ll need to ask yourself: Is your child impulsive or good at following instructions? Do you have health vulnerabilities or close contact with others who do? Is the benefit of the activity worth any anxiety it may bring? “It’s also important to respect that families will have differing levels of comfort and to support any decisions others make and respond with grace,” Jipson says.
Don’t Discount Virtual Playdates
Has your kid soured on FaceTime calls? “Finding ways to spice them up with new approaches and activities may help make them engaging again,” says Jipson. “But don’t put pressure on children to engage in this way,” she says. “If your child is no longer interested in connecting with others on screen, use time at home to focus on family social interactions—spend time everyday away from your individual devices and bring out the toys and games, cook something together, or do an art project.”
Still, good old Zoom can be used to encourage kids to share their non-digital activities with one another—everything from new dance moves to Lego projects to artistic creations,” says Jipson. “Just last night, my daughter made cupcakes with a friend over FaceTime—they both followed the same recipe in real time. They had a blast.”